Washington (BWA)--"The greatest tragedy of life," distinguished British Baptist pastor, F. B. Meyer once said, "is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer." And prayer for Christian unity has been described as the soul of the movement for the visible unity of the church.
When, in 1908, Paul Wattson gathered a group of Christ-followers in New York for corporate prayer in observance of the "Church Unity Octave," he was tapping into a tradition that has been traced to around 1740 when believers in Scotland gathered and prayed "for and with all churches." Thankfully, in 1926, a wider group of churches in the Faith and Order Movement started publishing "Suggestions for an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity" - a tradition that continues to this day - as a sign of their commitment to prayer for a great cause.
Many Christians will shortly be participating in the annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from January 18-25. The printed material for this year's observance is based on a text prepared by a group of Christian leaders from Jerusalem and finalized, as usual, by an international group set up by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church. It focuses on our oneness "in the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer" (Acts 2: 42-47).
Is it not Jesus who set for us the example of prayer for the unity of those who would believe, thereby providing justification for the conviction that a firm bond exists between worship and unity? Indeed, as our Baptist forebears often explained, whatever understanding of visible unity one holds, prayer is the indispensable accompaniment of our committed engagement to realize the unity given to the church as both gift and demand.
Behind the opinion expressed on the subject of "spiritual unity" in the writings of such persons as former BWA President F. Townley Lord and George Beasley Murray is the conviction that worship and unity are inseparable. As former BWA President, John Clifford, once said, "It is a source of unfailing joy to us to feel that ... our primary work links us with the holy church throughout the world, relates us to every believer in Jesus, in any church or none; makes us one with the self-forgetting missionaries of all societies.... We rejoice in the efforts now being made on behalf of unity of the followers of Jesus Christ, and gladly cooperate in these endeavors. We crave it; we pray for it."
The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) has often encouraged its members to cultivate a vibrant corporate prayer life. In the Seoul Covenant of 1990, Baptists affirmed that their participation in the whole family of God implies a willingness "to pray and work with other Christians."
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we encourage members of churches in fellowship with us to embrace the opportunity to join with Christians from other communions in the noble tradition of corporate prayer around a God-inspired purpose - that we may be one in order "that the word may believe" (John 17:21).